What is Kwanzaa and How is it Celebrated?

What is Kwanza and How Is It Celebrated?

Kwanzaa is a secular non-religious celebration of African American heritage and culture held from December 26th to January 1st every year since 1966 by Maulana Karenga, professor of Africana studies at California State University, Long Beach in response to the Watts riots. It originated with her idea in 1966 which was inspired by Dr. James Fletcher of San Francisco State University who introduced it as part of his curriculum at that time.

In the 1960s, African Americans sought to unite after years of civil unrest and cultural detachment within their communities. Dr. Karenga incorporated elements of several African harvest celebrations to create a holiday that would uphold the values of Black culture while helping build and strengthen familial ties.

Each day of this week-long celebration is dedicated to one of seven principles found within Nguzo Saba: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

On the first night of Kwanzaa, friends and families gather to light a special kinara candle holder. This container is filled with one black, three red, and three green candles that symbolize seven principles. After each candle is lit, everyone in attendance reflects upon how these values can make an impact in their lives.

On each of the following days, gifts are exchanged as a way of reinforcing each principle and showing its relevance in people’s lives. For instance, the sixth day is dedicated to creativity (Kuumba), marked by community performances such as dance or poetry readings.

These community events provide an ideal chance to explore the vibrant culture of African Americans. Many attendees don traditional African garments as a way to pay respects to their roots.

Another way to celebrate the holiday is by purchasing gifts from local Black-owned businesses. Doing so is an opportunity to showcase Ujamaa, or cooperative economics – helping other Black businesses thrive.

You can also find books that teach about the Black experience or African cultural traditions. Visit bookshops like Ida’s or MahoganyBooks for an extensive selection of educational titles.

How to Celebrate the Holiday

A Kwanzaa celebration is usually an upbeat, communal affair that includes African drumming, dancing, storytelling and feasting. Families may sing along to music or read poetry or quotes from Black authors or other prominent figures within the community as part of the festivities.

The centerpiece of Kwanzaa is the kinara, or candle holder. This holds seven candles that symbolize each principle of Kwanzaa and can be purchased in a store or made by hand depending on your personal preferences.

Other symbols associated with the holiday include mazao or crops, which symbolize agricultural roots and reward for working together. They serve as a reminder that Africans have a long history in agriculture. Corn or maize, representing hope for the future, is another common symbol used during celebrations; this serves to emphasize that African-Americans still have hope and should work together in order to build a better tomorrow.